Saturday, 7 December 2013
Seattle. Teenager Andrew buys a new camera and uses it to record everything around him. His mother is sick and his father sometimes beats him. He is also bullied in school. One night, his friends Steve and Matt invite him to see a strange hole in the woods, which leads to a cave with strange crystals. After returning to the surface, they find out they have grown telekinetic powers. At first, they use it to make pranks, like making a teddy bear float in a store or to move a parked car. They are even able to fly. During a storm, Steve tries to calm Andrew, but the latter looses his control. A lightning bolt kills Steve. Andrew considers himself superior due to his powers, and kills four bullies to take their money away. When he lands in a hospital, his father blames him for the mother's death, which causes Andrew to start flying and wrecking havoc in the city. In order to stop him, Matt kills him.
"Chronicle" is almost like a hidden good Superman vs. fascist Superman story, an upside down retelling of the superhero Hollywood matrix, showing the bad guy as the main protagonist and how he became that way, caused by bullies and isolation in the society. However, the slightly overused "found footage" genre is a burden to the film since the storyline takes too many overconstructed means and shortcuts to tell the story only from the POV of home (or surveillance) cameras. Like, how many times have you seen a guy talking private stuff like "I think my mom is cheating on my dad" while someone is recording him? Or a teenager not stopping his camera while he is arguing with someone? Sometimes it is simply necessary to tell the story from the director's, "all-knowing" camera. The first half is slightly problematic, too, because it wastes too much time on the buffoonery of three teenagers, though it has a few moments (Andrew making the silhouette of the holly Mary in his soup to fool the waitress; the camera recording itself in the mirror while floating in the air; Andrew and Steve performing "magic tricks" in front of the puzzled audience). The second half takes a more welcomed philosophical approach, and the emergence of the old "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" theme. The story could have went in thousands of directions, yet this one is also a good version, with the action finale reaching almost the level of "Superman II".
The 90s. Jamie Randall works as a sales representative of a pharmaceutical company, and tries to sway doctors to prescribe its product, Zoloft, instead of Prozac. While pretending to be a doctor's assistant, he meets Maggie, a 26-year old who is one of the youngest diagnosed patients of Parkinson's disease. Even though she is cynical at first, he manages to charm her and have sex with her. His overweight brother, Josh, is annoying him while staying at his apartment. Jamie hits it big when Viagra is introduced to the market, but Maggie breaks up with him so that she will not be a burden with her disease. However, he decided to stay with her in the end.
"Love & Other Drugs" is a strange patchwork that blends four different subplots into a more of a chaotic than a harmonious whole. It starts off as a comedy, then becomes an erotic love story, then switches to a satire on pharmaceutical industry and the arrival of the Viagra, only to conclude as a tragic handicap drama (the main heroine is one of the youngest patients of Parkinson's disease and her health is deteriorating). In the end, we get some sort of erotic comedy version of "Philadelphia". It could have worked, but a more concise storyline was needed than this one, that jumps from one plot to another, all of whom seem as if they could have been a good film on their own, but not joined together when they all nullify each other. Too many supporting characters are annoying and unnecessary, especially Jamie's slob brother, the low point of the story, but the two main characters really shine and are played with great energy by Jake Gylenhaal and, especially fantastic, Anne Hathaway, who did not shy of showing skin and were both nominated for a Golden Globe as best actors in a musical or comedy. Another great little plus point is a sequence that shows Jamie trying to sway a doctor to prescribe his product, Zoloft, instead of Prozac, that gives a good insight into the system. The director tried to counterbalance the melodramatic last third of the story with comedy, avoiding it to turn too sentimental, but the result is mixed when it was done through such tasteless jokes as the one where Jamie catches brother Josh watching his sex video he recorded while sleeping with Maggie.
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Vojvodina, a few days before the outbreak of World War II. In a small village, people from various ethnicities live together. After the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia, the Volksdeutsche, local, native Germans, become collaborators with the invading German soldiers. Among them is German Leksi, a drunk who suddenly becomes a Nazi patrolman. The position rises to his head and his ego cannot resist but to show off and belittle the locals. His neighbor Marko is secretly seducing his wife Anika. In order to save himself from going to the East front, Leksi agrees with Marko to get shot in the leg and go the hospital. Marko doublecrosses him and refuses to pay him. In anger, Leksi shoots Anika, and Marko Leksi. 25 locals are rounded up and executed as punishment.
Some films are rightfully forgotten with time, yet resurface here and there due to their sheer weird concept or strange title that seizes the attention. Among them is the solid, but standard humorous partisan film "Hitler from Our Village", a lifeless and mechanical 'museum example' of a movie, though it has such a cynical title that it managed to "survive" enough to get screened here and there. The sole concept is very good: it tackles the rarely shown perspective from the Volksdeutsche (native German minority of a country, here Yugoslavia) during the Axis occupation, and one of them, Leksi (very good Nikola Simic), sees this as an opportunity to rize though the ranks and turn from a nobody to a local bully. Except for three or four comical moments (in one of them, Leksi spots farmer Toma holding his hand up in the air in front of two other farmers and sees this as a sign to make the Hitler salute. However, after he does that, Toma says to his friends: "My dog was so happy to see me that he jumped this high"; Leksi urinating while looking at a wanted poster), the remainder of the film is overlong and did not exploit all the rich potentials of the starting idea, with too much empty walk and a whimsical end that does not seem like a harmonious conclusion to the whole.
Saturday, 30 November 2013
Julia is hired to be a private teacher for a peculiar 10-year old girl, Sylvia, in an isolated mansion. The child's father Eugenio and her stepmother Mariana, warn of Sylvia's weird behavior: she imagines to be playing with Hugo, a statue of a boy in the nearby lake. Strange things start happening, indeed: Julia loses her brooch in the lake, but someone returns it to her; a voodoo doll is found with needles on the exact same place where Mariana feels pain; Carlos tries to get rid of the statue, but dies in a car accident... Julia finds out that Hugo is the son of a witch, who comes to life as a statue, and teaches Sylvia black magic from his book. Eugenio destroys the statue with an axe, but the next day, a statue of Sylvia is found.
One of the more hailed horrors from Mexico, "The Book of Stone" is a good one, though more could have been done from the promising concept: for all its quality, today it seems more like a museum example of a movie. Except for the eerie opening shot of the fog and a few images of the scary, "jinxed" statue, the story is tame - the first half is almost boring, though the suspense does start to slowly rize in the second half - with too much empty walk and ordinary, standard family talk of the worried father about his daughter, whereas some scenes were clumsily directed. The paranormal tangle gives a frequency of unease, with an interesting end, which seems to have been enough for director Carlos Enrique Taboada who did not intend to enrich the straightforward story any more than it was. "Book" needed more imagination, though, yet it has its moments (Carlos wanting to paint near the lake, until he spots that the statue is missing).
Thursday, 28 November 2013
Emma and Liv are best friends, all until the wedding planer books their two weddings on the same day by mistake. Even though their boyfriends-fiancees, Nate ad Fletcher, don't mind, Emma and Liv try to persuade each other to move their wedding for another date, as to not be mutually exclusive. This culminates in heated arguments and sabotage plans: Emma secretly delivers Liv chocolate hoping she will become to fat for her dress, Liv spreads rumors that Emma is pregnant...Even though this escalates on the wedding, the two realize that the fight is pointless and make up.
"Bride Wars" fell victim to the annual scapegoat seekers among the critics, as it scored only a 3.3/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. Even though this sugary film is thin, sometimes silly, shaky and predictable, such a low rating is indeed too harsh and unfair, as it has enough good jokes and ideas to justify its existence, and avoids vulgarity, bad taste or moronic moments often found in other films of that genre. The sole plot of two brides fighting for the same time slot to have their wedding is simply fun, whereas the majority of the charm is given by the two actresses, especially Anne Hathaway who is simply unstoppable in displaying her talent no matter in what film she appears in. The first half has the best jokes (after Emma got engaged, Liv simply cannot resist but to run to her boyfriend's office and angrily demand: "Honey, when are you finally going to propose me?!"), though the second half sometimes disintegrates into a tit-for-tat bitch fight, but even that segment has it moments (Hathaway's "wild" dance while trying to overshadow Hudson's character is so insane it has to ignite at least a chuckle among the audience). Far from a great achievement, but for a movie that only wanted to offer a carefree, light fun, it succeeded.
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
A man stands on a train station. One of his papers is blown out of his hands into the face of a woman, and her lipstick remains on the document. The two chuckle, but part ways. The man spots the woman one morning in the neighboring building, and throws thousands of paper planes in order to make her notice, but fails. He gets out on the street, but the paper planes come to life and help him meet the woman again.
There's a certain time span into the storyline when you know a movie is a masterpiece. John Kahrs "Paperman" has one of the fastest time spans to get there: already some ten seconds into the film - when a document of the hero is blown into the woman's face, and as he retrieves it he finds out she "kissed" it by inadvertedly leaving a smooch on the paper - it manages to reach the highest level of awe, sympathy and simple wit. Unfortunately, that high level is not kept for the rest of the story and it seems we are watching a film slowly disintigrate as its running time goes on: the second act, of the man throwing paper-planes out the window, is very good, but a lot weaker, whereas the finale unfortunately derailed into a silly fantasy where the paper-planes come to life and bring the couple together, which is naive kitsch. Even though its momentum is falling down fast, like a slide, "Paperman" is overall still a quality short, executed almost without any dialogues and stylish black-and-white cinematography, and as such it is a valuable example of a sweet, charming animated romance in the US.
Thursday, 21 November 2013
Lombardy, end of the 19th century. Four farmer families live in a commune in order to work from there on the land of the wealthy landlord. The families are very poor, but have patience and understanding. One widow, mother to six children, says a prayer to Christ so he may save her sick cow, her only income. The widow takes some water from a creek and gives it to the cow, which is indeed healed the next morning; grandfather Anselmo hopes to plant his tomatoes first; the farmers butcher a pig. One farmer, Batisti, is father of three children. His son Minec goes to school, but his wooden shoe breaks, so Batista hacks a tree in order to make him a new shoe. The landlord eventually finds out, and punishes Batista by expelling him and his family from his property.
One of those fake masterworks, art drama "The Tree of Wooden Clogs" won the Golden Palm in Cannes and is occasionally mentioned by cineasts and film critics as a great piece of filmmaking, but is an overrated and overlong minimalist rural drama. Director Ermanno Olmi strives towards realism, without any fakery or glamour: he shows four farmer families who live in very poor conditions, walk in mud because there are no streets or put chicken droppings in the soil for fertilizer with their hands, and does not even shy from unpleasant moments (two shocking and graphic sequences of butchering a goose and a pig), whereas even the actors seem like authentic people, without any false pathos. However, the movie is without a poetic touch of a Pasolini or a Fellini, too straight-forward and monotone, with a, nota bene, too intrusive forcing of Christian religion. "The Tree" has only two wonderful sequences stemming from the 'slice-of-life' choice of style - the sweet moment where two girls are switching turns while sitting on a wheelbarrow while the other drives it and the charming subplot where grandpa Anselmo shows his granddaughter how to plant and raise ripe tomatoes before everyone else - which is enough for a good film, but not for a great one, since the rest of the film's events are rather bland and it will depend for whom they will suffice to carry a running time of three hours. It never reaches the magic of a 'slice-of-life' of a Miyazaki or a Takahata. However, it has a great little sequence where Batista chops a tree and then spends the whole night in devotion by modelling it to fit his son's wooden shoe.
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Buster and Sybil are married and get a special wedding present: parts for a build-it-yourself house. However, a jealous man who wanted Sybil for himself, deliberately meddles with their instruction kit, which results in an "athwart" house. Buster nevertheless tries to make as best of a home as he can. When they have to relocate, Buster puts barrels under the house and moves it with a car, but it gets destroyed when a train collides with it.
Along with "Sherlock, Jr.", "One Week" is probably Buster Keaton's best short film, a shining comedy. Keaton somehow hits the vibe of inspiration the most when he includes some spectacular object to play with or destruction on a large scale - such was the case with the epic tornado sequence in "Steamboat Bill, Jr." and the epic train chase in "The General" - as is the case here, where a whole housing unit is a part of the joke, used often to full potentials (brilliant - and magnificent - jokes where a strong wind spins the whole house around its axis, and makes the people inside feel like in a merry-go-round; the "abstract" design of the house, almost reminiscent of "jagged" buildings in the expressionistic "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"), though here even "smaller", humble everyday jokes manage to ignite all the way to the top (the scene where Keaton hits a police officer, takes his hat and uses it to stop the traffic, i.e. the car in which his bride was kidnapped, and then return the hat to the officer is among the pinnacle of cool). Filled with meticulous details, a strong pace, charm and an elegant style, "One Week" truly is among the greatest short films ever made and offers Keaton in a very cool edition.
Two farmer assistants, Buster and Joe, are living inside a very small house with only one room. They are in love with the daughter of the main farmer. Joe admits his love first, while a dog eats some cream and chases after Buster, who thinks the dog is rabid due to its cream on the jaw. Loosing his clothes in the chase, Buster takes the clothes of a scarecrow. He runs away with the farmer's daughter on a motorcycle and they are wed when they pick up a priest.
"Scarecrow" is a sketchy comedy with a vague plot, and not enough of a payoff compared to Buster Keaton's best films, but is still a very fun short film. The main lack in the story is the lack of a cohesive whole, evident in the very elaborated and meticulous breakfast sequence (salt and pepper grinders, ketchup and other spices are hanging tied to strings above the two protagonists, who just have to pick them "down"), but a one that lacks a point or a definite punchline, since a hanging salt pepper is not that much of a useful invention. Had they established that Buster and Joe are constantly misplacing or losing stuff in the house, such a string would have had a point in the story. The film should be enjoyed for its simple jokes that arrive swiftly and are great little fun: the dog "climbing" a ladder; for instance, or a scene where a character does not want to get his shoes wet, so he crosses a river by walking on his hands! The most charming jokes are so innocent it melts you away, such as the one where Buster "improvises" by giving his girlfriend a cog instead of a engagement ring.
Saturday, 16 November 2013
In the future, the US had a civil war. After the secessionist movement was suppressed, the nation is divided into 12 districts and the rich Capitol. In order to celebrate that event, the Hunger Games are held annually: 12 boys and 12 girls from each district are chosen to fight in a televised broadcast until only one survives. When her 12-year old sister is selected, Katniss volunteers to go instead of her. The boy from her district is Peeta, who is secretly in love with her. The 24 candidates train in the Capitol for the games, and Peeta and Katniss are assigned with "mentor" Haymitch, an earlier winner. Once released in the forest, the teenagers start massacring each other. Katniss and Peeta are the only ones left and decide to commit suicide rather than kill each other. However, they are interrupted by the council who declares them both winners.
Even though it had a good critical acclaim and a smashing box office result, the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins dystopian novel "The Hunger Games" is a standard action flick that turned out too much like "Running Man" and too little like "Rollerball" or "The Truman Show". Instead of developing a satirical and political dimension, it just dwells on the raw 'gladiator game' in the forest where the 24 teenagers are set on killing each other for the TV show, which in the end becomes the film's only perspective: that's maybe enough for action fans, but not for viewers eager for something more sophisticated and inventive. For one, the storyline is not articulate: it is not clear why the elite from the Capitol would set up such a drastic survivalist TV show where 23 out of 24 teenagers are killed. There is only one scene in the film that explains that, but it is insufficient. Such a practice would only make the system unstable, because parents from the 12 districts would become prone to rebellion in the long run in order to protect their kids from such a monstrosity. Overall, it simply makes no sense in the film. The sense of perspective also falls short: the fact that the 12 districts live in extreme poverty and only the Capitol has wealth is just a footnote in the film, because you never know if the place where Katniss lives in is just an exception or the rule in this world. On micro level, the scenes also tend to turn silly (Katniss spinning around her axis to "ignite" fire on her dress) or unconvincing (the typical cliche of a girl having the chance to kill off Katniss, but instead spending two-three minutes taunting her. And just when she is about to kill Katniss, she is, of course, "saved-in-the-nick-of-time"), whereas only a couple stand out as thrilling (the wasp nest sequence). "The Hunger Games" are a more humane version of "Battle Royale", but both are far from a good film.